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How to answer 'give us an example of a time when' questions in an application

Answering 'give us an example of a time when' questions in your property job application

Also known as competency-based questions, if you answer these questions well you show recruiters you have the right skills and competencies to meet the employer’s selection criteria.
You can never just say that you have an attribute; you need to provide an example of when you used or developed the skill.

Employers use skills-based questions to assess whether you have the appropriate skills to become a good surveyor or property consultant – remember that the skills that you’ll be asked about will always be relevant to the job. By giving evidence from the past it indicates to the recruiter how you might behave in the future. It also shows whether you have the analytical skills and self-knowledge to select the best examples.

Skills-based questions that have previously come up in application forms include:

  • Capita Property and Infrastructure has asked candidates to: ‘Please give an example of a challenge that you have set yourself and describe how you have gone about achieving it.’
  • CBRE has asked: ‘What action would you take to build a relationship with a client in order to secure a long term goal? Tell us about a time when you were required to build a relationship with someone in order to help you achieve a particular goal/outcome.’
  • Gerald Eve has requested candidates: ‘Please give an example of how you have adapted your own communication style to deal with different people/clients.’

For more advice on the application process read our article on how to answer other tricky questions: why property, why this employer and why this job?

Tip 1: focus on the question

Ensure you actually answer the question being asked and choose a suitable example to talk about. ‘My tip for applicants is to think "why is this firm asking this question?" and "what are they looking for?" Then break down the question step-by-step and make sure you’re answering every section of it,’ says Mark Dubes, graduate and recruitment development manager at CBRE. For instance, to answer the Capita Property and Infrastructure past question don’t forget the second part (‘describe how you have gone about achieving the challenge’).

To make your example sound as relevant as possible to the skills or qualities you think the employer is interested in, use key action words to draw attention to these, such as ‘I organised/calculated/presented/liaised’. Matt Higgins, graduate and future talent manager at Barratt Developments Plc., says: 'During the application process many candidates make the mistake of writing what they think we want to hear, rather than being honest about themselves. There is no such thing as a "perfect candidate"; it is best to be candid about your experience and the areas in which you need to develop.'

Tip 2: use your whole life

Lauren Strangleman, graduate manager at Knight Frank, recommends including all details of your work experience history, even if it is in a different sector: ‘You can strengthen your application by emphasising all of your work experience, including part-time jobs, and not just industry-specific internships,’ she advises. ‘This will highlight that you have a good work ethic in general.’ Similarly, Amelia Dowty, graduate recruitment and training manager at JLL, says, ‘Make sure your application gives the reader a clear view of “the whole you”, not just your work experience and academic qualifications’. Include property-related experience where possible but try not to have too many answers from one part of your life; picking examples from a range of activities will show you’re a well rounded candidate.

Tip 3: take CARE

When answering these questions, don’t simply state what you did; make sure you explain and evaluate your examples fully. To do this, try the CARE approach. It will help you structure your answer and ensure you include just the right amount of relevant detail. Write about the Context, the Action you took to complete the objective and the Results of your efforts and then give an Evaluation of what you did.

For example, to answer the first question, from Capita Property and Infrastructure, your challenge might be running a charity fundraising race. The context might be that you’re not naturally athletic and you had to schedule training in around studying. The action might be that you trained regularly three times per week, planning a running schedule, keeping a record of the miles you covered and pushing on even when you found it hard. Make sure you highlight what skills you put to use here. Then the result might be that you completed the race and raised however much money for your charity. Finally, the evaluation is the important bit and your chance to show off your skills. Point out, for example, that you were determined in the face of difficulty and you planned your training effectively to make sure you achieved your goal. If you can include some of the skills mentioned in the job description, then all the better.

And finally...

Don’t fall at the final hurdle. Give credibility to your answers by proofreading your application. Read it through carefully and get it looked over by a fresh pair of eyes before you submit it. ‘Check for any mistakes before you send off an application,' says Vanessa Briggs, HR manager at Gerald Eve. 'Don't underappreciate the small things – for example, spelling the firm's name correctly – as these can let candidates down.'

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